John Walter Guerier Lund (1912-2015)

John Walter Guerier Lund

Written by David A Cross

Occupation: Phycologist

Early Life

John Walter Guerier Lund was born at Tankerville, Ollerbarrow Rd, Hale, Cheshire on 27 November 1912.  His father George Edward Lund (1861-1926) was a Manchester solicitor and his mother Kitty Hardwick (1871-1952) was the daughter of Richard Hardwick, a woollen merchant. Educated at Sedbergh and Manchester university, he began by reading zoology but changed course to botany and his remarkable 1st class degree in 1934 is all the more striking as he had not studied science at school.  His first paper appeared when he was still an undergraduate, having been encouraged by the youthful Dr Irene Manton (1904-1988; ODNB) to examine his own water samples from nearby ponds and becoming fascinated by the beauty of Euglena, a flagellate aquatic organism. This led to his lifetime adoption of phycology, the study of primary photosynthetic species in the freshwater and marine food chains.

Following this early success, he studied from 1934-36 for an MSc on the sporophyte of the brown seaweed Laminaria cloustoni (now L. hypoborea). From 1936 he undertook a PhD at Queen Mary College London, working on benthic (bottom living) algae in the ponds of Richmond Park, under the supervision of professor Felix Eugen Fritsch FRS (1879-1954; ODNB), one of the leading phycologists of the first half of the 20thc. Fritsch was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1932 and became the chairman of the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA). He was best known for his later two volume work The Structure and Reproduction of the Algae (1945) and had an enormous influence upon Lund, who gained his PhD in 1939.  He was later awarded a DSc by London university in 1951.  

After a brief period as a temporary lecturer at Sheffield university, Lund  worked at the West Midlands Forensic Science Laboratory in Birmingham.  Here, as a forensic botanist supporting the police, he gained some publicity from his involvement in the ‘Bella in the Wych Elm’ case at Hagley Hall in 1941, when a skeleton was found within the trunk of a tree. The experience of preparing evidence for court cases honed his ability to produce precise and lucid scientific writing and he published several papers on forensic topics.

The Move to Windermere

Next in 1944, he joined the staff of the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) as an algologist and began his work on the ecology of planktonic algae of the Lake District. The FBA had been established in Lakeland in 1929 by JT Saunders (qv) of Cambridge university, with a base at Wray Castle, near Ambleside from 1931. The association transferred to ‘the more capacious Ferry House’ (John), near Far Sawrey in 1950 (other sites were opened in Frome in 1957 and East Stoke, Dorset in 1963). Lund’s research was ‘always imaginative and thorough and extremely influencial’ (Battarbee) as he discovered, described and ‘brought into laboratory culture’ many new species of algae, including examples of crysophytes and xanthophytes. His prolific and frequently detailed studies covered the distribution, seasonality, population dynamics and ecological requirements of these planktonic species.

Lund was acclaimed in particular for his accumulated data on microalgae, notably the ecology of the most important species in Windermere the planktonic diatom Asterionella formosa, which occurs in many temperate lakes and dominates the spring algal ‘bloom’ on Windermere (Lund 1949). Of microscopic size, it has cells barely 0.1 millimetres long and appears in attractive star shaped colonies. His work in this field remains ‘a prime example for the conduct of analytical research’ (Battarbee) and one of his papers is listed ‘among the 100 most influential papers published in 100 years of the British Ecological Society journals’ (Grubb and Whittaker). Frequently devising experiments, which grew in scale and ingenuity, he tested his own hypotheses about the mechanisms controlling algal growth.

Eutrophication and Mesocosms

He established a research group at Ferry House, Windermere where he worked with Hilda Mabel Canter, later Canter-Lund, (1922-2007; qv) whom he married in 1949. Hilda was the daughter of George Robert Canter (1889-1975), a gas fitter in London, and his wife Mabel Chappell. She had graduated from Bedford College, London and had been awarded her PhD at Birkbeck, following her research into fungi, supervised by Cecil Terence Ingold (1905-2010; ODNB). John and Hilda worked together on the fungal (chytrid) protozoal parasites that infect freshwater algae, publishing ‘a series of papers on their taxonomies and life histories that have scarcely been emulated’ (Battarbee).

In the 1960s Lund commenced a series of experiments in the field which employed in-situ artificial enclosures of increasing size and complexity in his search for the major factors controlling phytoplankton and the causes and progress of eutrophication in the Windermere drainage basin. Beginning with cylindrical bags on Buttermere, these evolved into plastic curtains which partitioned Blelham Tarn and eventually the ‘majestic butylite enclosures’ or mesocosms placed there (Battarbee). These last structures, which became known as ‘Lund Tubes’ measured 45 metres in diameter, extended 11-12 metres to the bottom mud and each enclosed some 18,000 cubic metres of water (Lund and Reynolds). Such influential techniques made it possible for later researchers to investigate natural populations of phytoplankton under manipulated conditions.

Hilda Canter-Lund was also a gifted photographer and her beautiful photomicrographs hugely enhanced the book they published together, entitled Freshwater Algae: Their Microscopic World Explored (1995) which won the Prescott Award of the American Phycological Society in 1997. Her images achieved a high technical and aesthetic quality, whilst still capturing the key elements of the organisms being studied. The council of the British Phycological Society now presents an annual award for photographs in her memory.

The Fritsch Collection

 Another important project developed after 1955, when John and the FBA were given a huge collection of line drawings from contemporary literature selected by professor Fritsch. The Fritsch Collection of Algal Drawings was curated, catalogued and expanded by John and his assistants into an unique world resource supporting the identification and taxonomy of freshwater algae. The collection is currently being digitised for future online access.

Among his wide range of subjects Lund also covered the taxonomy of soil microalgae, methodology, culture studies, bioassay, seasonal cycles and long term changes to the lake. He gained insights into factors controlling phytoplankton populations via experiments in the laboratory and later in lakes and his team produced subsequent work on other diatoms, desmids and the so-called µ-algae, often in collaboration with the ecophysiologist Dr Jack Talling FRS (qv), the chemists John Mackereth and Jack Heron and the zoologist-cum-physicist Clifford Mortimer FRS. Talling’s work on algal photosynthesis showed the extent to which productivity in these species related to the variability of underwater light conditions.  By encouraging generations of dedicated students and assistants to develop their own special talents and enthusiasms, the FBA was engaged with culturing other species of algae, making algal bioassays, examining the stratigraphy of sediments and eutrophication (artificial enrichment of waters with sewage and fertilisers). These projects fed a great deal of practical information to other professionals, to facilitate more effective management of lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

Maturity and Recognition

Lund travelled extensively, giving papers and advising on projects abroad. The British Phycological Society was founded in 1952; he served as president from 1958-9 and also as president of the International Phycological Society in 1967.  In 1963 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and in 1965 was awarded a CBE. He learned to read, speak and write in both German and Russian and produced at least one paper in the latter language, also being the prime mover in the translation of O Korshikov’s tome on algal taxonomy (1987).  

Under the auspices of the International Biological Programme, Lund was chairman of the Productivity and Freshwater Communities Sub-Committee and involved in advising governmental and non-governmental bodies. He supported many research projects, including the survey of the highly eutrophic Lake George in Uganda. Following this he took part in the debate about eutrophication in the 1960s and 70s. His thorough, meticulous and clear writing was very suited to this role.

His Final Years

John Lund continued his work at Ferry House until his retirement as a deputy chief scientific officer in 1978, though he continued to work several days a week until the age of 92, in 2005. During this period he was an honorary adviser to the FBA and a vice president and dealt with a great range of enquiries from the international scientific community, encouraged the completion of original publications, published bibliographic essays and continued to supervise the curation of the Fritsch collection. Hilda predeceased him in 2007 and his last decade was rather hampered by deteriorating eyesight. 

As ‘one of the most eminent and internationally acclaimed freshwater phycologists’ (John) he had a ‘rich life of satisfying achievements’ and was a ‘phycological polymath’ (Round); his tally of more than 150 publications and a powerful sense of his achievement is manifest in McCulloch et al. (2008). He had described 43 new species and 9 subspecies, with ten named lundii in his honour. The diatom genus Ellerbeckia was named after his Ambleside house. Described as ‘an admirable colleague’ (Battarbee), he had a sharp intellect, a remarkable memory and the ability to inspire others. His memory was useful in many ways, not least in his ability to recall people and events from many years earlier. He was friendly, charming and unassuming, had a lively sense of humour and his laugh was frequently heard in all corners of Ferry House.  Despite his eminence, he was a modest man who maintained ‘an admirable disdain of authority’ (John). 

In this latter period he despaired at the lack of government comprehension of the achievements of the FBA with the resulting reorganisation, contraction and subsequent ‘dissipation of its expertise’ (Battarbee). That Ferry House, which had been home to remarkable scientists and the source of numerous valuable discoveries, is now a holiday complex would doubtless have made him wince, though the FBA still continues on a more modest scale. Dr Lund died at Ellerbeck on 21 March 2015 aged 102.


  • Obituary by Richard Battarbee, Royal Society website
  • P Grubb and J Whittaker, 100 influential papers published in 100 years of the British Ecological Society Journals, British Ecological Society, 2013
  • Obituary by David M. John, Phycolia, volume 54 (4), 2015, 431-4
  • O Korshikov, The Freshwater Algae of the Ukranians, trans JWG Lund and W Tylka
  • JWG Lund, Studies on Asterionella: The Origin of the Cells producing Seasonal Maxima, Journal of Ecology, 1949, 37, 389-419
  • JWG Lund and CS Reynolds, The development and operation of large limnetic enclosures in Blelham Tarn, English Lake District and their contribution to phytoplankton ecology, Progress in Phycological Research, vol 1, 1982, 65pp
  • I McCulloch, I Pettman, JF Talling and O Jolly, Published work from the FBA 1929-2006, 2008
  • FE Round (ed), Algae and the Aquatic Environment: Contributions in Honour of JWG Lund, 1988
  • JF Talling and SI Heaney, A Memoir of John Walter Guerier Lund CBE 27 November 1912 – 21 March 2015, Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society, royal, 2015
  • Obituary, Westmorland Gazette, 8 April 2015
  • FBA website
  • emails from the Royal Society and the British Phycological Society